Category:Expensive wine

Expensive wine 15: Montecillo Rioja Gran Reserva 2001

There are many things to like about the Montecillo (sample), starting with the price. At $25 or so, it's not only a reasonably inexpensive expensive wine, but a tremendous value. Second, it's still generally available, which one always doesn't see with wines this old.

But the best thing about the wine? What it tastes like, of course. This is classic Rioja (a red wine from Spain's Rioja region made with tempranillo), and it is made by one of the best of the traditional producers. That means low alcohol, dusty tannins, long finish, and a successful, marvelous, and continuous juggling act between acid, oak and fruit. Do not expect New World style fruit or oak; the oak is a whisper, and the cherry fruit is almost mute. They are there as part of the chorus, not as soloists. As such, this is a much more subtle wine that reflects an entirely different approach to winemaking.

Serve this with almost anything Spanish or Mexican, beef, chicken or vegetarian. I did it with pinto beans, Mexican rice, and guacamole, and it was amazingly complementary. I also decanted it for about 30 minutes, and served it slighty cool, around 55 degrees. One more note: 2001 was an excellent vintage in Rioja, and Montecillo should age well over the next several years, getting even more dusty and interesting.

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Expensive wine 14: Adelsheim Chardonnay 2008

Adel One of the Wine Curmudgeon's regular complaints is that it's almost impossible to find New World chardonnay that tastes like chardonnay. Too much of it has too much oak and too much alcohol. In fact, I got some samples the other day where the chardonnay had more alcohol than the merlot and the cabernet sauvignon.

In short, too much winemaking gets in the way of the wine. For whatever reason, New World chardonnay producers, who work with some of the best fruit in the history of winemaking, are terrified of letting the grapes be the highlight of the wine.

That is not the case for Oregon's Adelsheim ($22, sample). Quite simply, it is one of the best New World chardonnays I have ever tasted — rich and just enough oak to make it chardonnay, but not too much "technique" to get in the way of the green apple fruit. And, at 13 percent alcohol, it's lower than some sweet rieslings I've had.

The Adelsheim is a steal at this price. And the more expensive Caitlin's Reserve Chardonnay ($40, sample) was an even more sophisticated and subtle wine (think of a fine Chablis, but with New World fruitiness). Availability, however, is limited.

Drink the Adelsheim on its own, or with any classic chardonnay dinner — chicken in cream sauce or Dover sole, for instance. And be glad that Adelsheim winemaker Dave Paige took the time and effort to make this the right way.

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Expensive wine 13: Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

From one of the CellarTracker notes for the Freemark Abbey cabernet sauvignon: A good value for a pleasant, but relatively simple, every day wine.”

The list price for this wine is $35. The Wine Curmudgeon wishes he lived in a world where he could afford to spend $35 for an everyday bottle of wine. That works out to $175 a week (assuming we’re drinking more expensive wine on the weekend, of course) and $9,100 a year. Maybe it’s me, but spending almost $10,000 a year on wine seems like a lot of money. I write about wine, and I don’t spend $10,000 a year.

This is not to knock the Freemark Abbey (sample), which is a very well done Napa Valley cabernet with quality fruit (lots of cherry), soft tannins, and all more or less in proportion. I’d buy it for myself for a special occasion, or give it as gift (Father’s Day, perhaps). As such, it’s far from simple and it’s not an everyday wine.

Which points to one of the problems with the wine business in this country and why more people don’t drink wine. Until we can get rid of those attitudes, wine will never be accepted by most Americans as something to drink everyday. It will be seen as something for the rich or the snobbish or the geeky — and wine is much better than that.

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Expensive wine 12: Twomey Santa Barbara Pinot Noir 2008

Pinot noir in the United States is at a crossroads. The varietal is morphing into a different kind of wine than it has traditionally been — more tannic, higher in alcohol, less subtle. These days, California winemakers are producing pinot noirs that resemble cabernet sauvignon more than they do pinot noir.

That’s why it’s such a pleasure to recommend the Twomey ($50, sample). It doesn’t taste like cabernet, and that’s saying something given the harsh, unpleasant — often nasty — pinots that I have been tasting lately. That they cost $30, $40 and $50 doesn’t seem to matter.

I don’t often use the words “very pretty” to describe a wine, but it fits the Twomey (made by Silver Oak winemaker Ben Cane, who is famous for his high-end cabernets, ironically  enough). This is a pure, clean, elegant red wine, yet still complex and sophisticated. It’s fruity, as a California wine should be, but it’s a fruitiness that teases, instead of hitting you over the head like a brick. It’s astonishingly low in alcohol, at 13.4 percent, and its acid balance is stunning. In short, it’s the difference between Catherine Deneuve and Madonna.

Drink this for a special dinner or give it as a gift to someone you care about. And, frankly, given how much over-the-top pinot noir I’ve tasted at this price, it’s a value as well.

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Expensive wine 11: Domaine Leflaive M con-Verz 2007

This is chardonnay the way it should be made.You can buy decent Macon, the unoaked chardonnay from Burgundy, for about $10. And it's fine wine. Or you can splurge and buy the Macon-Verze (about $35, purchased). Trust the Wine Curmudgeon on this.

I don't often feel the need to wax poetic about wine in the manner of so many of my colleagues, but it's all I can do to restrain myself when it comes to this wine. So I'll leave it at this:

Pure. Clean. Acidic. Fresh. Fabulous. You name it, this wine has it. Is it expensive? You bet. Is it worth it? You bet. There is a reason why Domaine Leflaive has been in business for almost 300 years and is one of Burgundy's great producers, and you can taste the reason every time you take a sip of this wine.

Buy this wine for the holiday at the end of the week that shall remain nameless. Buy it if you want to taste chardonnay that hasn't been put through the California oak and malolactic wringer. Buy it if you love wine but have forgotten why you do.

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Expensive wine of the month 10: Murphy Goode All In Claret 2004

Murphy Goode's All In Claret is quintessential high-end California wine -- with all that entails.

The All In Claret from Murphy Goode, a red Bordeaux blend, is quintessential expensive California wine (though it’s from Sonoma’s Alexander Valley and not Napa). It’s full of rich, concentrated fruit (cherries and berries?) and you won’t miss the oak. The tannins are there, but they don’t get in the way, and the alcohol checks in at 14.5 percent.

In other words, the All In ($45, sample) is a wine that part of the wine world will love and another part will sip, spit, and move on from. I saw this myself at the Cordon Bleu Challenge last week, when I brought the wine for my team to cook. We drank what was left afterward — two of us loved it and two of us went, “Meh.” Regular visitors can guess what the Wine Curmudgeon thought.

This does not mean the All In is a “bad” wine; in fact, it’s extremely well made and the fruit is top quality. My pal Joe Pollack at St. Louis Eats and Drinks called it an outstanding wine. Rather, this illustrates a point about wine that I have been trying to make for more than 20 years, and which the Winestream Media regularly ignores. Wine is not objective. Wine is subjective. The goal of wine criticism should not be to tell people what to drink, but to explain to them what the wine tastes like so they can make up their own mind. That’s why scores are so useless. They don’t explain anything. They tell people what to drink.

Would I spend $45 for the All In? Probably not, since I don’t like that style of wine. But someone who does, like my cookoff teammates, probably would. My job, and that’s what I did here, is tell them what it tastes like so they can make their own decision. Wine drinkers are not as stupid as the wine business wants them to be.

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Expensive wine of the month 9: St. Supery Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Michael Beaulac’s tenure as winemaker at Napa Valley’s St. Supery produced sensible, intelligent wines. He had a plan, and he stuck to it, regardless of what was going on in the wine world around him.

Case in point is the 2004 cabernet sauvignon ($30, sample). It’s clean and well-made, without any of the foolishness of so many Napa cabernets — overripe fruit, over-the-top alcohol, and missing tannins. It’s fruity, of course, because it’s from Napa (black cherry, perhaps), but there is also an earthiness absent from many similar wines. In this, it’s an excellent example of the difference between the Old World and New World styles, and one I wish more California winemakers kept in mind.

This is the wine to drink with holiday prime rib or to give as a gift; and, at $30, represents a bit of a value. I hope that Beaulac, who left St. Supery this year for Pine Ridge, was able to take some of this with him.

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